Ukrainian Orphans at High Risk in Russian-Controlled Crimea

Children watching Russian tanks being moved
A man and children look at Russian tanks on freight cars after their arrival in Crimea in the settlement of Gvardeiskoye near the Crimean city of Simferopol March 31, 2014. Russia is withdrawing a motorized infantry battalion from a region near Ukraine's eastern border, the Russian Defence Ministry was quoted as saying by state news agencies on Monday. The United States says progress on resolving the East-West stand-off over Ukraine depends on Russia pulling back troops massed on the border. It was not clear whether other troops would pull back or had already withdrawn. (Reuters/Stringer)

As democratic posturing continues over the Ukraine crisis, concern is growing for Crimea's orphans.

“Because Russia has ‘annexed’ Crimea–for lack of a better word, they [orphans] would not be allowed to be adopted,” explains Amy Richey WITH EFCA ReachGlobal.

Russia has already applied their 2013 ban to orphanages in Crimea, effectively ending all in-progress adoptions. The Black Sea peninsula holds 22 orphanages, which were reportedly being used by Russian troops as barracks and weapons storage at the height of the Crimean take-over.

This week, Richey is meeting with groups like Ukraine Without Orphans to discuss ways to help the Church address several orphan concerns. Crimea’s orphans are first on their list.

“[Ukraine Without Orphans] is very concerned about getting the orphans that are in Crimea right now–which they estimate is between 3,000 and 4,000 children–back into Ukraine so that they can place them in homes with Ukrainians, and/or internationally,” Richey explains.

But Crimea orphans aren’t the only ones “in danger”; institutionalized children throughout Ukraine are facing perilous times.

“Our concern is that one of the highest-risk groups for human trafficking has just been escalated to a whole new level,” says Richey.

Orphans are easy prey for traffickers. When they age-out of the system at 15 or 16 years old, Ukrainian orphans immediately find themselves in a “foreign” world with no life skills. They receive no basic training while in the orphanage. Most orphans don’t know how to cook, shop for groceries, budget, or start a bank account by the time they leave.

Before they reach 18, around 60% of girls are involved in the sex trade, and 70% of boys end up in the crime ring.

“They [orphans] want a better life, they want more opportunity. And so, they believe empty promises and lies that people come in and tell them without any questions asked,” says Richey.

Government and economic instability are further areas of concern.

“The Ukrainian government currently is operating on a day-to-day basis, as far as funding for anything within the country,” explains Richey.

“The orphanages throughout Ukraine potentially could be in a situation where they would have to find their own funding, and/or have individual directors be in charge of ‘placing’ [orphans] into long-term [living] situations.”

The latter arrangement could funnel Ukrainian orphans directly into the world’s second-largest illegal industry: human trafficking.

“Some orphanage directors are very caring and concerned for the children that they deal with,” notes Richey. “And we know that some [directors] have, in the past, worked with traffickers.”

ReachGlobal doesn’t want to see a situation where orphanage directors have even more opportunity to work with traffickers. Pray for them as they work with groups and local churches in Ukraine to safeguard the country’s orphans.

“While we’re very vulnerable politically and socially in Ukraine right now, the strength is the covering of prayer,” Richey notes, “not only throughout Ukraine and coming together as a body, but people praying throughout the world for Ukraine and for the safety of the people here.”

Pray also for the protection of vulnerable people in Crimea, particularly the orphans and the Tartar people who are “fleeing Crimea because they fear persecution and they fear conflict,” says Richey.

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